Key Federal Financial Management Terms

Below are some key Federal Financial Management Terms:

  • Authorization: Act of Congress that permits Federal programs or activities to exist and recommends funding levels.
  • Appropriation: Act of Congress to provide Federal agencies with budget authority to obligate government to future outlay of cash for a specific purposes and period of time. 
  • Commitment: An administrative reservation of funds by the financial controller or resource manager triggered by a procurement or purchase request.
  • Obligation: A legal reservation fo funds that binds government to future expenditure and outlay of cash from the Treasury triggered by the signing of a contract, travel order, credit card transaction, etc. 
  • Expenditure: Issuance of a payment disbursement by electronic funds transfer, check, etc. 
  • Outlay: Payment of cash from Treasury to vendor to liquidate a financial obligation.

 

These should be helpful in understanding the Federal

financial management processes. 

 

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Healthcare.gov – Yes, Yes, and Yes

Yes, Yes, and Yes

Healthcare.gov was rolled out on October 1.

Since then there has been lots of bashing of the site and fingerpointing betweeen government overseers and contractors executing it.

Some have called for improvements down the line through further reform of government IT.

Others have called for retribution by asking for the resignation of the HHS Secretary Sebelius.

Publication after publication has pointed blame at everything from/to:

– A labyrinth government procurement process

– Not regularly using IT best practices like shared services, open source, cloud computing, and more

– An extremely large and complex system rollout with changing requirements

And the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

Government procurement is complex and a highly legislated functional area where government program managers are guided to hiring small, disadvantaged, or “best value” contract support through an often drawn-out process meant to invoke fairness and opportunity, while the private sector can hire the gold standard of who and what they want, when they want, period.

Government IT is really a partnership of public and private sector folks that I would image numbers well in the hundreds of thousands and includes brand name companies from the esteemed defense and aerospace industries to small innovators and entrepreneurs as well as a significant number of savvy government IT personnel. Having worked in both public and private sector, I can tell you this is true–and that the notion of the government worker with the feet up and snoozing is far from the masses of truth of hardworking people, who care about their important mission serving the public. That being said, best practices in IT and elsewhere are evolving and government is not always the quickest to adopt these. Typically, it is not bleeding edge when it comes to safety and security of the public, but more like followers–sometimes fast, but more often with some kicking and screaming as there is seemingly near-constant change, particularly with swirling political winds and shifting landscapes, agendas, lobbyists, and stakeholders wanting everything and the opposite.

Government rollout for Healthcare.gov was obviously large and complex–it “involves 47 different statutory provisions and extensive coordination,” and impacted systems from numerous federal agencies as well as 36 state governments using the services. While rollouts from private sector companies can also be significant and even global, there is often a surgical focus that goes on to get the job done. In other words, companies choose to be in one or another business (or multiple businesses) as they want or to spin off or otherwise dislodge from businesses they no longer deem profitable or strategic. In the government, we frequently add new mission requirements (such as the provision of universal healthcare in this case), but hardly ever take away or scale back on services. People want more from the government (entitlements, R&D, secure borders, national security, safe food and water, emergency response, and more), even if they may not want to pay for it and seek the proverbial “smaller government” through less interference and regulation.

Is government IT a walk in the park, believe me after having been in both the public and private sectors that it is not–and the bashing of “cushy,” federal jobs is a misnomer in so many ways. Are there people that take advantage of a “good, secure, government job” with benefits–of course there are some, but I think those in the private sector can look in the offices and cubes next to them and find quite a number of their colleagues that would fit that type of stereotype as well.

We can learn a lot from the private sector in terms of best practices, and it is great when people rotate from the private sector to government and vice versa to cross-pollinate ideas, processes, and practices, but the two sectors are quite different in mission, (often size and complexity), constituents, politics, and law–and not everything is a slam dunk from one to the other. However, there are very smart and competent people as well as those who can do better in both–and you fool yourself perhaps in your elitism if you think this is not the case.

Are mistakes made in government IT–definitely yes. Should there be accountability to go with the responsibility–absolutely yes. Will we learn from our mistakes and do better in the future–the answer must be yes. 😉

One Hand Washes The Other

Dirty_hands

This week the House overwhelming approved an notable ethics reform package to ban insider trading on the hill and in the executive branch. (Washington Post)

However, ethics and conflict of interest in government decision-making is something that affects politicians and civil servants alike.

Two specific areas come to mind, including employment decisions and acquisitions awards, where there is probably no greater area of public trust.

Because personnel and contracting decisions affect livelihoods and pocketbooks, they are ripe for corruption and undue influence, favors, and other mitigating factors such as preference or tit for tat arrangements.

To safeguard these actions by public officials, the Federal government has set out rules that govern personnel practices and acquisitions.

On the personnel side, there is an exemplary set of rules commonly referred to as the ” Prohibited Personnel Practices” (Title 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)).

For example, they set out rules against such things as:

Discrimination against employees or applicants and even for off duty conduct

Preference in personnel decisions

Soliciting or considering recommendations not based on personal knowledge

Retaliation against whistleblowers or those filing appeals

Coercion of political activity

Similarly, there are laws in government that govern federal acquisitions such as the Federal Acquisitions Regulations.

Included in this are are specific rules that mandate ethics and integrity in procurements, and these for example bar activities such as:

Conflicts of interest in making acquisition decisions

Soliciting and accepting gifts

Seeking employment with a bidder

Disclosure of protected information

Of course, these guidelines are only as good as those following them. When these rules are bypassed with winks, excuses, or even outright deceit, the system and the ethical principles embodied in them are doomed by backroom politics.

As the same time, the specifics of the rules and regulations, and the interpretations of these to each situation is critical, and officials should regularly consult with their ethics officers and legal counsel to ensure that they are not only doing the right thing, but doing things right.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for each department and agency plays a vital role in ensuring that officials are managing in such as way as to avoid fraud, waste, and abuse, and the OIG can usually be contacted both by phone or email and is available to assist the public in investigations, inspections, and evaluations.

To ensure the integrity of government at the highest level, the rule-makers (Legislative Branch), the implementers (Executive Branch ), and the interpreters (Judicial Branch) are all involved in ensuring the ethical foundations of our government.

On the ground, day-to-day, senior executives, human resource and procurement officials, ethics and legal officers, internal affairs and the OIG play important roles in guiding the process and hopefully weeding out the “bad apples.”

However, when people involved are lax, derelict, or intentionally overlook corruption and endemic bad behavior as part of a one hand washes the other culture, everyone loses in terms of not only the smooth and efficient running government, but in the underlying principles of integrity for which it stands.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to “Brain Malfunction”)

>A Winning App Is Not Only an App Winner

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In the government, just getting an “app winner” doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “winning app.” But that’s not stopping us “govies” from making progress!

As we all know, the Apple iStore has become hugely successful, with over 225,000 apps and the Android Market with almost 90,000 apps.

These marketplaces have grown fast and furiously because there is a simple and direct road from building the app to commercializing it. In the case of Apple, for example, I understand that the developer walks away with 70% of the revenue, Apple gets 30%, and the consumer can simply download the apps and start using it. Presto!

The government has attempted to capitalize on this apps development strategy by putting government data out there (i.e. data.gov) and letting the developers do their thing (i.e. create apps that are supposed to be useful to citizens).

In distinction to the private sector, the government doesn’t have a marketplace where developers simply make their apps “available” for use. While in the Apple store, any developer can post an app for use, in the government there is no open store like that.

To spur apps development, a number of government agencies have been hosting contests for best applications, but despite the fanfare, many do not get past the initial stage.

Government Technology Magazine (July 2010) in an article titled “Life After Apps” quotes Chris Vein, the CIO of San Francisco, who states that “just because it [an app] wins doesn’t mean the jurisdiction actually gets to use it.

Jay Nath, the innovation manager of San Francisco explains that “because applications submitted in the competitions don’t go through normal procurement channels, cities cannot use them as ‘official’ apps.”

Whether this changes at some point down the road, I do not know, but it seems like something for government procurement specialists to look at, because there may be an opportunity here to save money and serve taxpayers more effectively.

Even Washington, D.C., which became famous for its 2008 apps contest, is rethinking the “apps craze.” The city has discontinued its annual Apps for Democracy competition due to concerns over “sustainability and value of apps produced.” The District wants to look again at how to engage entrepreneurs to “solve core government problems.”

Nevertheless, there are signs that government interest in developing apps through contests remains strong. For example, “Apps for Army,” a contest for Army personnel, launched on March 1.

In a similar vein, the General Services Administration recently announced that they are using “ChallengePost” to announce contests and have the public suggest, discuss, and rate ideas. This is now being used for AppsForHealthyKids.com, a competition sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her important campaign to end childhood obesity.

Overall, there is a lot of innovation out there in government, and a strong desire to collaborate with the public. DC and San Francisco and other major cities as well as the federal government are taking the conversation about apps development to the next level in terms of governance best practices for getting value from them and ultimately bringing the apps to the users who need them.